Botswana Bushmen win back rights to Kalahari water

A Basarwa man in the Kalahari
Image caption Rights groups say the government has tried to make the Basarwa Bushmen's lifestyle impossible

An appeals court in Botswana has ruled that indigenous Bushmen can drill wells for water in the Kalahari desert.

The court said the Basarwa Bushmen could use an existing well on their traditional land in the Kalahari Game Reserve, and excavate new wells.

The decision overturned a ruling made last July that took away the Basarwa's rights to drill for water.

The new ruling also criticised the government's treatment of the Basarwa as "degrading".

BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson says the court judgement is a remarkable victory for the Bushmen.

The Botswana Basarwa Bushmen have been embroiled in a long-running legal battle to return to their traditional land and way of life.

Diamonds have been discovered in the Kalahari Game Reserve, although the government insists that was not the reason it ordered the bushmen to be resettled outside the reserve.

The Kalahari has been the bushmen's home for tens of thousands of years.

In 2006 the Basarwa won the right to return and to hunt without permits, but many of them still live outside the reserve.

Water tankers, which used to serve the community, no longer enter the reserve.

The UK-based rights group Survival International, which has supported the Basarwa Bushmen, hailed the latest court decision.

Director Stephen Corry said it was "a victory for human rights and the rule of law throughout Botswana".

He urged President Seretse Khama Ian Khama to signal whether or not the government's position had shifted in the light of the ruling.

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